“Our volunteer form-fillers help people apply for Attendance Allowance (if they’re over 65) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) over the phone. Customers are referred to us from our Advice team – advisers identify if a person could be eligible for either of these benefits. If there’s no one who can help them with the form, they’ll organise a phone appointment with one of our form-fillers.”
“The forms are long and full of jargon. It asks personal questions about someone’s day-to-day routine, so it’s vital our form fillers quickly establish a trusting relationship with the customer to make sure the answers accurately represent their living situation.
It can be hard for someone to face the realities of their living situation, and people can be overly modest. A customer may say they can manage a daily task, but the truth is that it’s quite difficult for them. The form filler can help a customer open up and talk about the difficulties they’re having, and paint a clear picture of their needs in the application form for the decision maker at DWP.
Our volunteers are amazing – they’re extremely dedicated people who go through lengthy training to do their role. This includes workshops with the Legal Rights team, shadowing other form-fillers, work with the Advice team; it means they get a better understanding of the working we do. It’s hugely beneficial: if they’re having a conversation with a customer, they can suggest products from the RNIB Shop that could help, or signpost them to other services.”
We’re getting to a point where we are struggling to keep up with the demand. When we first offered the form filling service in 2011, we only had one volunteer who helped five clients on Attendance Allowance, and secured them £14,000. In the last financial year (2016-17), we helped 68 clients on Attendance Allowance, 151 on PIP, and have secured them £1million – a huge increase!
We’re now trying to work closer with local associations and societies. If we can show them how we work, help with their training, and have their volunteers shadow ours, they’ll be able to offer a form-filling service locally. So if someone calls the Advice team asking for the form-filling service, we can direct them to their local society. Also, some people just prefer to get help face to face – we’re helping to create that option.
Our Welfare Rights Advisers in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and Rights, Advice and Information Service (RAIS) in Wales also help people apply for and check their benefits. The teams provide a full start to finish service – from filling in forms and checking someone’s entitlement, to appealing the decision if they think it’s incorrect. This financial year, the teams have helped customers claim a staggering £7.7million in benefits and backdated claims.
Jane Manley’s been volunteering with us for three months. She said:
“I volunteer because it gives me a sense of purpose – I get to use my skills for a worthwhile cause. I have sight loss myself, so I can understand and translate the everyday issues that affect blind and partially sighted people for a sighted world, and help them see why benefits like PIP are necessary on so many levels. I get to go home feeling I’ve given a voice to those struggling with sometimes incomprehensible bureaucracy where the goalposts seem always to be on the move.”